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Understanding your ideal audience

January 18, 2021 / Sarah Manley

I once again had the pleasure of chatting with Mike Leon and Jay Wexler from Brand Heroes about how to identify and better understand your ideal audience, through the use of segmentation – a pivotal process in order to see success in your marketing efforts. Joining us this time was Debbie Harrison, Marketing Manager for CAA Insurance. We all ‘zoomed’ in on how to begin to understand your audience, and the benefits of doing so as it relates to marketing campaigns and messaging.

First, why should you identify your audience before embarking on any marketing campaign? As Jay advises “there are two important reasons to do this. First it’s to make sure that you’re sending a relevant message to the right people, and that you’re selling the right part of your business.” The truth is that some people will react well to a message that speaks about products, while others will look for the emotion related to your business. Marketing to a person with a family should look different than marketing to a university student, as an example. “Second,” Jay continues “is creating a message that will grab and retain the consumers’ attention.”

This may seem an impossible task… how can we anticipate what will, and what will not pique someone’s interest, and drive them to more action? Mike explains: “The first step is understanding who your audience is. Not just where they live, how old they are and their gender, but determining what’s important to them. Who they are, what they believe in, what do they do for work and why they do it… and once you understand all of this, you can tailor your message to be one they may respond to.” Really, any campaign message should tell a story about what you are offering. “It’s important to not just throw a message out there, but rather to find a way to connect with your audience,” continues Mike. “And, if you can connect with them, people are going to feel more inspired to be part of that story along with you.”

Now that we’ve identified the importance of identifying your audience, how do you break them into different segments? The group agreed there are four types of segments to use as guiding principles:

Demographic – this is the easiest segment to identify. Look at your data for information such as age, gender, the census type of information. This acts as a great starting point.

Geographic – where they live. Urban versus rural. You can even drill down to FSA level, to help you determine the communities in which you want to market.

Behavioural – the types of behaviours define the type of audience. Look at how they access information. Will they access your business on their mobile, or drop into your branch for a face-to-face interaction. This will suggest how to reach different audiences.

Psychographic – definitely the most challenging, but the most telling segment. This looks at peoples’ values and what they believe in. It helps to identify the kinds of conversations they will look to have, and ultimately, what you as a Broker can offer them personally.

After you’ve identified the different segments, you can then begin to assign personas, which are basically character sketches. By doing the hard work with segmentation first, personas should map themselves out fairly easily. Some examples could be:

  • John lives on the outskirts of town and is retired. His new passion is refurbishing an old Mustang convertible which, because of his passion for the environment, will run on clean fuel. His last transaction with your brokerage was to discuss how to eventually insure his ‘baby’ when it was road-ready, and this interaction was done in-person, over coffee.
  • Mohammed lives in the downtown core in a condo with his wife and three kids. He’s a serious minimalist, and saves his money for new experiences and adventures with his family. He owns a software consulting business which is starting to see small successes. Because of his hectic schedule, he does most of his personal business on his phone, and the last transaction with your brokerage was over email.
  • Kelly is a university student living off-campus with a friend in a rental apartment. Her parents have been with your brokerage for many years, and it was a natural fit for Kelly for you to provide her tenant insurance. What she values most is her family and friends, and spending as much time with them in, preferably, an outdoor setting. She spends ample time being ‘sociable’ on social media, and recently ‘liked’ an article you posted on how to safely enjoy winter activities.

These three personas are very different, and can help with determining specific messaging and mediums for your marketing strategies.

For some, this multi-step process may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be super-scientific – more of an iterative process. “Start mining your data, and you’ll be surprised how much you have to work with,” explains Debbie. “For example, identify someone who moved to another brokerage after only being with you for a year – what happened? And then look at those who have been with you for a number of years – what has kept them loyal and how do they behave in terms of interaction?” This analysis will help you develop a message that is relevant to your individual customers.

When starting to consider your marketing campaign, it’s important not to start with the platform. “That’s a tactic, in search of a strategy to support it,” contemplates Mike. “Let the data you’ve mined tell the story, and that will help you figure out where to go.” So, once you’ve determined your segments and personas, you can then start to develop your messaging. This will then help you figure out what platform will best facilitate your message. “Facebook and Instagram have very user-friendly ways to target to a specific market,” Mike continues. “By identifying certain elements of the personas you’ve created, you can direct your relevant messaging to those who will be able to relate and find value in your offer. LinkedIn offers similar targeting capabilities, which could benefit commercial marketing efforts by drilling down to industry, role and organization type.”

Also, there’s nothing wrong with making some assumptions within your defined personas. Don’t worry; if you’ve guessed wrong, you’ll learn and be able to make your segmentation stronger based on the results.

Once you’ve determined your segments, identified personas, developed your messaging and made some assumptions, now’s the opportunity to test. “A test could be email vs. print,” suggests Debbie. “Email a select segment, and send a direct mailer to another, and then analyze the results.” Once you see which medium works, you can tweak your copy to demonstrate the value, features and benefits that speaks to individual types of customers. “From here, you can further hone your personas, because the learnings will identify the values that resonate with certain customers,” concludes Jay.

The main take-away learnings from this discussion were clearly:

  • Jay – don’t be afraid to start this process. Put your best guesses down and start to test to see if your assumptions are correct. Defining personas will have a direct impact on the full experience people will have, even beyond the advertisement.
  • Debbie – Start with what you have and what you know, and then build on this information. Have an objective and tracking measures in place to measure success. If you don’t reflect on the outcome of a campaign, you’ll keep seeing the same results. And by analyzing results, you can further build your segments and personas.
  • Mike – Don’t view the process as homework or daunting work. Starting small will help you develop your segments on a larger level. It’s okay to ‘geek out’ on the process and enjoy it! The more you enjoy mining your data and developing the foundations of a successful campaign based on segmentation, the more success you will have.


Mike Leon is an award-winning Digital Marketing and Branding Professional, with 20 years of experience in Canadian and International markets. As President and founding partner of Brand Heroes Inc., Mike is responsible for the firm's strategic direction and can be credited with building Brand Heroes into a leading boutique brand storytelling agency, with a national client list that includes post-secondary, healthcare and regulatory organizations.

Jay Wexler has had the privilege of working on brand expression projects, digital campaigns, video content, and eLearning. As Creative Director at Brand Heroes Inc., he is responsible for the development and application of creative standards, with amazing clients in both the private and public sector. Jay has a strong educational background, with a Masters of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, and a post-graduate certification in Digital Strategy and Communications Management at the University of Toronto.